The Catholic World Youth Days have always been a colorful spectacle. This year it is also due to the sometimes rainy weather.
It is the World Youth Day of raincoats. This is how he will be remembered by the hundreds of thousands of participants from all over the world. In yellow, orange and light blue, the plastic throws protect them from the drops that the sky over Krakow is raining down on them in this changeable summer, sometimes drizzling, sometimes in cloudbursts.
The capes from the pilgrims’ backpacks or from the street vendors make the Catholic festival of faith even more colorful than it already is. They are the great equalizer, cloaking teenagers in hot pants as well as young nuns and monks in long religious robes under the serious gaze of the canonized Krakow Sister Faustyna Kowalska (1905-1938), who looks down on them from many posters.
Colorful capes and flags
They move in groups and small groups through the streets and alleys of the historic Old Town, from faith talks with their bishops to the Pope’s event. Almost always they carry the flags of their countries with them. Those who get stuck at one of the many buildings with the charm of a centuries-old patina or at the stages with gospels and chansons quickly find their way back through the home flag.
In any case, the banners do not reflect the nationalism that is burgeoning in many places in Europe. "Here you can see that we are still one after all," says 16-year-old Christopher from Rudesheim, Germany, at one of Pope Francis’ mass meetings with young people for the international happening.
Long nights in Krakow
The 79-year-old, who accompanies the chants and chants with the mellow smile of a benevolent grandfather, does not go unheard with his appeals for mercy and community. As a matter of course, participants, some of them with severe disabilities, are patiently pushed through the crowds in their wheelchairs and have seats as close as possible to Francis.
They are also there when it has become dark. Krakow nights are especially long these days. Long lines form in front of burger and kebab stands, but the typical local croissants, rogaliki, also find curious buyers. The famous halls of cloth in the central marketplace glow in soft pink, illuminated like other central monuments of the Old City with the Unesco World Heritage designation.
All are equal before God
The flickering blue lights of police cars posted at central locations are a reminder that many thousands of security personnel keep a watchful eye. Some of them are also caught up in the atmosphere and film the scenery with their cell phone cameras. Vigilance and World Youth Day feeling need not be mutually exclusive.
Toward midnight, bus stops fill up. Thousands then gather to go to their shelters, some of which are far away. Hundreds of young people from the Archdiocese of Cologne have been accommodated in families and a school in a small town at the foot of the Beskid mountains. A group from the U.S. state of Minnesota, on the other hand, is staying in a four-star hotel with a view of Wawel, Krakow’s castle hill. At one of the big meetings with the Holy Father, they are all the same, united in their faith.